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From the Trenches

Medieval Baby Bootie

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Switzerland Baby BootA leather fragment of a late fourteenth-century child’s shoe was recovered during rescue excavations beneath the cobbled streets of Saint-Ursanne, Switzerland. Preserved in waterlogged soil, the ankle boot likely belonged to a child of about one year old, and would have been fastened with leather button clasps. Although the shoe’s style was common for the period, says Marquita Volken of the Lausanne Shoe Museum, its decorative technique is very rare. The intricate geometric and foliage patterns were created by scraping away the leather grain to form a suedelike surface, rather than punching or stamping the designs, as was usual. “Such a pretty little shoe for a baby probably meant the same as it would today,” says Volken. “We want our children to look cute— even if the shoes aren’t needed for walking.” 

Putting Dinner on the Table

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Caribbean FrogTrenches Caribbean ShellsAround A.D. 400, archaeologists believe, children from the indigenous Caribbean Saladoid culture on the island of St. Thomas helped their mothers put food on the table by foraging. The researchers have found that a midden in downtown Charlotte Amalie contains thousands of mollusk shells, the majority of which are smaller snails that adults wouldn’t have bothered to collect because of their low meat yield. Rather, these smaller animals were gathered by Saladoid children, who scoured shallow areas along the shore. “Children made it possible to exploit a wider area more efficiently,” says archaeologist William Keegan of the Florida Museum of Natural History. They could fill a whole basket with small whelks, he explains, and still easily carry it back to their village.
 

Such aid was necessary because Saladoid communities were matrilocal, so men lived primarily in their mothers’ villages rather than with their wives and children. This made women responsible for providing most of the food for their families, says Keegan. They would supplement produce from their gardens with shellfish, collected in part by the helping hands of their children. 

Picnic for the Afterlife

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches China Eggs CROPPEDYou might have seen a delicacy known as “century eggs” on Chinese restaurant menus or on the shelves of Asian markets and wondered, “Are those eggs really 100 years old?” (Answer: They aren’t. It actually only takes about a month to make them, using a pickling liquid made from lye, salt, and water, and then rolling the eggs in mud and wrapping them in rice husks.) In a recently excavated tomb in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, however, archaeologists found a jar filled with eggs dating all the way back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770–ca. 475 B.C.), making these incredible edibles at least 2,500 years old. Sadly, only the shells remain. 

A Big Production

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches Guatemala Molds COMPOSITEWhen contractor Pedro Archila drove his excavator into a large earthen mound outside the central Guatemalan city of Coban in May 2018, he inadvertently exposed the remains of the largest figurine workshop ever discovered in the Maya world. A team led by archaeologist Brent Woodfill of Winthrop University and Erin Sears of the Smithsonian Institution subsequently excavated the site, called Aragon, and are now analyzing its more than 400 fragments of figurines and figurine molds. 

 

The workshop appears to have been active between A.D. 750 and 900, suggesting that a community of artists thrived in the area even as nearby cities, including Cancuen some 50 miles to the north, declined or were destroyed during a period of turmoil. The figurines were likely used as diplomatic gifts and trade items, says Woodfill, and may help scholars learn more about the political landscape in the region at the end of the Maya Classic period (ca. A.D. 250–900). “We don’t know very much about the Classic period and the beginnings of the Postclassic period in this area,” he says. “Now that we’ve identified this figurine workshop, it shows that there was a significant population here that was heavily involved with trade and exchange.” 

A Plot of Their Own

By GURVINDER SINGH

Monday, June 10, 2019

Trenches India Harappan Burial CROPPEDAt a 4,500-year-old necropolis in northern India, archaeologists discovered a grave containing the remains of a man and a woman who seem to have been buried at the same time. The burial is one of some 60 graves that have been recently unearthed near a settlement known today as Rakhigarhi. Rakhigarhi was one of the largest cities of the Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization, which flourished from 2600 to 1900 B.C. in what is now Pakistan and northern India. The couple were interred in a pit along with ceramic vessels and an agate bead. “The skeletal remains of both individuals were well preserved,” says Deccan College archaeologist Vasant Shinde, who led the excavations. “The manner in which they were buried, with the male facing toward the female, could commemorate their lasting affection, even after death.” Analysis of the skeletons showed that the two were between 21 and 35 years old when they died. They are the only known Harappan couple to have been buried together in the same grave. 

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